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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Evita at Village Theatre

Also see our review of Doubt

Evita
Eric Polani Jensen and ensemble
The 2005-2006 Village Theatre Season concluded with a successful run of that venerable "big lady" show from the sixties, Hello, Dolly!, and the 2006-2007 season launches with another musical about a charismatic and influential lady, Evita. Known more for their lighter, family friendly fare, Village Theatre showed a gambler's instinct in programming the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, let alone opening a season with it. Though the Village main stage seems a bit too small for this mega-musical, and the cast size is also smaller than conventional for this particular show, co-directors Steve Tomkins and Brian Yorkey (with Tomkins as choreographer as well) deliver a solid, quick paced production that doesn't soften or sugarcoat the tale of the ambitious and social climbing Eva Duarte Peron, whose celebrity overshadowed that of her Argentinean President husband Juan Peron in the 1940's, before her early demise.

The title role at the performance I attended was gamely portrayed by Kat Ramsburg, the understudy for the role usually portrayed by Jennifer Paz. Ramsburg is vocally assured, with some facial and personality resemblance to original Broadway Eva, Patti Lupone. She particularly scores in the numbers where she is called on to show the determined, feisty young Eva, such as "Buenos Aires" and "Goodnight and Thank You," and in the duets with Louis Hobson as her Che ("Waltz for Eva and Che") and Eric Polani Jensen as Peron ("I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You"). Ramsburg has less success conveying the combination of charisma and poignance required to make the show's hit "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" reach an emotional climax.  Hobson, in his best leading male performance in several years, has the nerviness, bravado and defiant attitudes of Che pretty well covered, and Che's songs suit his rock tenor vocal style quite well, with "High Flying Adored" a special standout. Jensen creates a complex and largely sympathetic Juan Peron, and caps his satisfying turn with a perfectly lovely and touching take on "She is A Diamond."

As Eva's first conquest, Magaldi, Michael Cimino gives simply the best performance in this role I have ever witnessed, vocally assured and also incredibly funny. Kudos to both the actor and the directors who had the wisdom to see that making Magaldi an older grease ball tango singer would greatly enhance this sketchy role. Sadly, Shanna Marie Palmer, a recent replacement in the role of Peron's Mistress (and a swell Minnie Fay in VT's Hello, Dolly! ) isn't ideally cast in the role, either in vocal range or character type.  The ensemble vocalize and execute Tomkins' dance heartily, though it would have been nice to see a few more mature and robust male character types to fill out the ranks of Peron's fellow politicos. The better than average size band fares pretty well, under musical director R.J. Tancioco's energetic baton.

Tom Sturge's scenic and lighting design work are impressive, with the multi-level set giving the cast additional playing space, especially useful when Evita addresses the adoring crowd from her balcony during "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."  Alex Jaeger's costumes are rather hit and miss, and the famous white gown for Evita on the balcony isn't nearly special enough for the moment.

Village seems to be prospering with the recent programming of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows drawing large crowds in. But one can hope that doesn't mean we will be getting a scaled down Sunset Boulevard or Starlight Express in future seasons.

Evita runs through October 22 at Village Theatre, 303 Front Street in Issaquah, then moves to Everett Performing Arts Center October 27-November 12. For more information go on-line at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh 



- David-Edward Hughes



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